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How to Use the Best Flash Sale Sites to Score Deals – Pros & Cons

By Jacqueline Curtis

online shoppingWhat do sites like ideeli, Gilt, HauteLook, Fab, and NoMoreRack all have in common?

In addition to offering great deals, they’re all considered “flash sale” sites, which are often confused with group shopping sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial. Flash sale sites represent a new breed of consumerism, offering steep discounts on in-demand items, but with a catch: The sales only last for a few hours.

You might think flash sale sites are all geared toward female shoppers, but you’d be wrong. Fab.com caters to the indie crowd, while DoggyLoot targets pet owners. No matter who you are, chances are there’s a flash sale site for you.

The allure is hard to resist – but questions naturally arise. How do you judge the worth of a deal in such a short time-span? How do you decide so quickly whether your finances can handle it? While such concerns can be unnerving, there are a number of solid advantages that such sites can offer, in addition to a number of downfalls. It’s important that you have a handle on both before trying to utilize any flash sale website.

Advantages

  • Score Killer Deals. Manufacturers sell via flash sale sites because they want to sell a large volume. But because the discounts are so steep, they can only be sustained for a short period of time. That gives you the opportunity – if you’re quick enough – to purchase items well within your budget.
  • Discover New Products and Manufacturers. Flash sale sites give you the opportunity to learn about products and manufacturers you might not have heard of before. Fab.com deals exclusively in smaller designers and manufacturers, so you can find a lot of limited or one-of-a-kind products. Plus, you can feel good about helping the little guy by buying from a small business.
  • Buy High-End Products for Lower Prices. With flash sale sites, you might be able to score some high-quality, authentic name brand goods you normally can’t afford. My favorite pair of Michael Kors heels retails for more than $200, but I picked them up for $85 on a flash sale site. For a brand new pair of designer shoes, that’s a steal.

Disadvantages

  • You Can Fall Victim to the Adrenaline Rush. Flash sale sites prey on your emotions in much the same way an auction website like eBay does. The time limit raises adrenaline and creates a sense of urgency that if you don’t buy the item right now, you might miss out on an amazing deal. If you pull the trigger without thinking it through, you’ve fallen prey to the tactic.
  • You May Buy Products You Don’t Need at Prices You Can’t Afford. Flash sales can entice you to purchase things you normally wouldn’t consider because they’re out of your budget. If you normally don’t spend more than $50 for a handbag, you’d probably never drop $500 for a designer purse. But what if a flash sale site has one on offer for $250? It’s over your budget, but less than what you’d pay retail. The key to navigating these offers is to remember that just because something’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s a great deal for you. If you didn’t think about owning it until you saw the deal, don’t buy it.
  • Exclusivity Makes You Spend. The flip side is that scoring those sweet deals makes you feel like part of a club. In fact, some flash sales require an invitation to join. Being part of a “private” flash sale on websites like DashLuxe, Rue La La, and Totsty can make you feel like part of the fashion elite, and that can get you to loosen up that grip on your wallet. A sense of exclusivity is often intentionally engineered to make you feel like you’re getting an insider price.

online shopping

How to Shop Smart With Flash Sales

After signing up for just about every site I could find, my email inbox was inundated with all the latest steals. After buying one pair of Michael Kors heels, however, I realized I was spending unnecessarily and I reined in my purchases. I learned to use the flash site, and to not let it use me. There are several steps you can take to do the same:

1. Hit “Unsubscribe”
When you sign up for a flash sale website, you’re automatically added to a mailing list. Each morning, a new daily deal arrives in your inbox, complete with price and countdown clock. Seeing those shiny new goods on a daily basis is suicide for a healthy bank account.

To tame the spam beast, unsubscribe from automatic email lists. You can check out deals manually when you have the time to look and the money to spend.

2. Do Your Homework
Often, mediocre products have flash sales because a company knows that if you do any digging you’ll find better quality or lower prices elsewhere. Don’t let that itchy finger get you in trouble. A quick Google search or perusal of Amazon.com usually gives you the hard truth. You can sometimes find cheaper deals in retail stores – without shipping costs or a time limit.

3. Shop With Purpose
Browsing these sites just to kill time almost always leads to trouble. Save your flash sale site subscription for when you really need it, or when you have some extra cash to spend on something special.

A killer deal on cashmere gloves for mom’s birthday present? Perfect. Need a new pair of work shoes for that holiday office party? Great. As long as you have a general purchase in mind, you won’t be suckered into buying unnecessary items.

4. Set a Budget
If you’re hopelessly addicted to flash sales and don’t foresee stopping in the future, the least you can do is budget your purchases. Include these purchases as a subsection of your shopping budget by picking a monthly spending limit, and sticking to it. Start with a $50 maximum and log out and close the website as soon as you’ve maxed out. This way, you can still partake in the fun of quick-draw shopping without getting gunned down.

5. Beware the Bulk
Flash sites often offer low, flat-rate shipping for the items you buy. Sounds great, right? Wrong. Don’t be lured into buying more goods just because of a low shipping fee. Instead, ask yourself, “Would I purchase this if I had to pay full shipping?” If the answer is no, delete it from your shopping cart. A flat rate shipping fee won’t pay for itself by buying more items.

Final Word

The benefits and perils of commerce are as old as the wheel. Whether it’s retail, wholesale, or e-commerce, every form of buying and selling comes with advantages and disadvantages. So don’t let the marketing tactics work on you. Learn to recognize marketing ploys and remind yourself to shop smart, and you can beat the flash sale sites at their own game.

Do you shop at flash sale sites?

Jacqueline Curtis
Jacqueline Curtis is an experienced style expert, and she focuses on getting high fashion on a tight budget. She writes for several online publications, including her own fashion blog, How Not to Dress Like a Mom, and specializes in fashion, finance, health and fitness, and parenting. Jae grew up in Toronto, Canada, but now resides in Utah with her husband, two kids, and prized shoe collection.

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  • Rohit

    Aggressively unsubscribing has helped me save a lot of money. Many companies just sign you up when you make a purchase, without explicitly informing you. Then the sale emails and one day sale makes you visit their site and you end up spending. When I observed this pattern, I aggressively removed myself from many lists.

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